• The Genius Factory

  • The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank
  • By: David Plotz
  • Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
  • Length: 10 hrs and 3 mins
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (91 ratings)

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The Genius Factory  By  cover art

The Genius Factory

By: David Plotz
Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
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Publisher's Summary

From the former editor of Slate and CEO of Atlas Obscura comes the unbelievable story of “the Nobel Prize sperm bank” and the children it produced - “a superb book about the quest for genius and, ultimately, family” (Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Talking to Strangers).

Named one of the best books of the year by Rocky Mountain News

It was the most radical human-breeding experiment in American history. The Repository for Germinal Choice - nicknamed “the Nobel Prize sperm bank” - opened to notorious fanfare in 1980, and for two decades women flocked to it from all over the country to choose a sperm donor from its roster of Nobel-laureate scientists, mathematical prodigies, successful businessmen, and star athletes. But the bank quietly closed its doors in 1999 - its founder dead, its confidential records sealed, and the fate of its children and donors unknown. 

Crisscrossing the country and tracking down previously unknown family members, award-winning Slate columnist David Plotz unfolds the full and astonishing story of the Nobel Prize sperm bank and its founder’s radical scheme to change our world.

Praise for The Genius Factory

“[David] Plotz’s wonderful history of the Nobel sperm bank is filled with wit, pathos and insight...[He acts] as narrator, ethnographer, historian, social critic and even go-between, brokering reunions between children and their genitors.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Perfectly pitched - blithe, smart, skeptical, yet entranced by its subject.” (The New York Times)

“By turns personal, confounding, creepy, defiant of expectations and touching...The Genius Factory isn’t merely curious, it’s useful.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Tense, hilarious, and touching...wonderfully readable and eye-opening.” (The Wall Street Journal

“Terrific...[a] lively account.” (The Washington Post Book World)

©2005 David Plotz (P)2005 Books on Tape, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Plotz has fun poking holes in the eugenic vision of the repository's founder....More captivating, however, is Plotz's recounting of the efforts of the women who visited the repository to discover the identities of their donors. As he gets to know a cluster of families and donors, Plotz reaches insightful conclusions about the unforeseen emotional consequences of artificial insemination....The attempt to breed genius babies may have an aura of surreal humor, but the sensitive narration always reminds us of the real lives affected, and created, through this oddball utopian scheme." (Publishers Weekly)

“I want to start a terrific writers sperm bank, and the first seed I want in the inventory is David Plotz’s. Plotz has it all. He’s an incredible, unstoppable reporter - unrelenting yet always fair and compassionate - and a deft, witty writer. Plotz’s account of the Nobel Prize sperm bank is an absorbing, surprising, deeply human tale of deceit and megalomania, of hopes and dreams and eugenics gone wild.” (Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Spook

“The human story is painful and brilliantly related...This is not just another local tale of American freakery, this is the story of a fundamental change in our attitudes to reproduction. Unpretentious, well organised, simply and readably told, this is a fine book about the human spirit and its indomitable pursuit of error.” (The Sunday Times, London)  

What listeners say about The Genius Factory

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Z
  • 08-11-05

Interesting stories, but not what I expected.

I'm not sure what I expected when I got this audio book, but it wasn't what I got. I guess I thought there would be some more solid data about how the whole nobel prize sperm bank experiment all turned out, or more about the genetic factors in intelligence.

However, now I've heard it, it's understandable why there wasn't more about this aspect. It's because no-one really knows how the nobel sperm experiment turned out, and if the stories in the book are anything to go by, many of the donors weren't really genius's anyway, and only one nobel prize winner is actually known to have donated.

The stories are interesting, and relate to donors finding children, children finding donors, children finding half siblings, and the interactions and relationships that ensue between them. It raises thinking points about what impact the donors had on the intelligence of the children as well as the impact finding out they were nobel sperm babies had on them. But it doesn't so much answer these questions as leave them for you to ponder yourself.

There is a smattering of the authors opinions on various topics surrounding the nobel sperm bank, sperm banking in general, eugenics and alike, but it's more passing thoughts and general opinions than concerted research. However the author always presents it as such, and never tries to pass off his musings as factual.

Overall it was an entertaining book, and the authors style is quite funny. There's one particular story that really stands out, when one of the children finally meets his "nobel" donor, and he is not quite what you would expect.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Rest of the story..

An interesting listen for finding what had happened to the "breed your own Nobel Winner" idea. The development of the history and insight of expectations that were generally unmet gives a good base for cloning expectations. I had a feeling of closure, and that was satisfying.

3 people found this helpful

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Sperm banks are a wealth of contradicting problems

This was really interesting! Was it eugenics? Yep. Was it the way families were formed before speed banks were a mainstream option? Yep. Does it bring so many moral reckonings? Absolutely!

I enjoyed learning about the Genius Factory and all it’s foibles.

As a fan of Slate and David Plotz, I would have liked to hear this narrated by the author.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Swallowed it over the weekend

Great introduction into the world of AID (artificial insemination by donor), its history, its issues and successes. If anything, I wish the author sounded less judgemental in some of the chapters.

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Surprisingly engaging albeit a bit soppy

I listened to this in the space of three days, partly because I was doing a bit of driving, but also because the story was surprisingly engaging. The stories of some of the progeny play out a bit Jerry Springer/Real Housewives, but on the whole remain very grounded.

Overall this didn't conflict with my expectations of genetic predisposition but it was an interesting romp through an aspect of the fertility industry. There are biographic aspects that are a bit boring and all too predictable even if Plotz does try to balance and contextualise, overall succeeding, which are not as engaging, but a turn for the interesting and intriguing is always around the corner. In the end I guess this is a bit voyeuristic, like reality tv, but it lacks the over the top peaks those programs focus on and remains grounded even if some of the individuals do drag the discussion into that direction.

So, interesting but not surprising, with dramatic interludes but lacking drama (in a good way).

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Guess who started the Eugenics craze? Not Germany.

A great introduction to the United States Eugenics movement. Brilliantly told. Expertly read. Great story!

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A good read

As has been said, the book goes somewhat astray of it's title but that's OK. The characters are real and interesting. Oddly, there are few if any super brain stories here. The Nobel babies struggle to decide what happens now that their "gift" is out, then life happens, pure and simple. Ditto the donors who run the gamut from hoping to someday meet their offspring to those who have all but forgotten they donated at all.

The authors spin on the larger picture represented here is balanced and his first person account is endearing. The book sneaks up on you, it's a good one. I liked the reader a lot as well. I'd definitely recommend this one.

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  • Sam
  • 12-09-09

The Genius Factory

Thought provoking!